A year later…

Credit: Nouri Flayhan

On October 17 2019, the Lebanese poured into the streets to demand accountability, justice, and dignity. The October Revolution was born.

A year later, Lebanon is grappling with an economic crisis beyond imagination, amidst the political instability, ongoing refugee crisis (Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world), the pandemic and aftermath of the August 4th explosion.

To support Lebanese on the ground, NaTakallam launched the Lebanese dialect last March. Get inspired and hear from one of our Lebanese conversation partners, Sally, on what the work means to her, especially during these times.

Looking to support Lebanese? Spread the word about NaTakallam’s language sessions, available for all ages + levels! We offer translation and interpretation services, too.

Or know Lebanese in the country looking for work? Send them our way if they have a solid language and/or translation background!

Yalla! What are you waiting for? Click here to learn the authentic spoken Lebanese dialect online by native Lebanese in Lebanon! Available for beginners and advanced.


In our modern era of clickbait headlines and 280 character debate, refugees, like so many other marginalized communities, often suffer from negative stereotyping and popular misconceptions. As part of our commitment to promoting more understanding, truth-based discussions and helping reshape the narrative around refugee populations, it is essential to unpack the facts from the fiction.

NaTakallam’s displaced tutors, teachers, and translators come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds – each with unique skills and experiences surely misconstrued by simplistic generalizations.

This World Refugee Month, NaTakallam hopes that employers and communities around the world will use this time to better understand the rich contribution refugees can offer their cities and places of work.

Myth 1: Most refugees restart their lives comfortably in new countries.

Fact: Less than 1% of refugees are resettled into new countries.

Resettlement is still a rare phenomenon, even though millions are eligible. If successful, it often takes years, and the journey of starting life anew in a foreign country can be extremely hard, especially in the face of new legal and educational systems, foreign languages and cultural norms.

NaTakallam works with many skilled refugees who are often stuck in limbo, cut off from the local labor market, in camps, or in other transit circumstances, where each session contributes directly to their livelihoods.

Sources: UNCHR and Roads to Refugee

Myth 2: Most refugees flee to the US, Europe and Australia.

Fact: Over 80% of displaced persons are in countries neighboring the conflict from which they fled.

Contrary to common belief and loaded headlines, only a small fraction of resettled refugees are hosted in developed countries. More often they are forced into limbo states, with no legal residency or work status.

NaTakallam works predominantly with displaced people who have fled to developing countries, neighboring the conflict from which they fled. Top host countries include Turkey, Pakistan, and Uganda, as well as Lebanon (which hosts more refugees per capita than any other country, according to UNHCR).

Sources: UNHCR and WEF

Myth 3: Refugees are mostly adult males.

Fact: More than half the world’s refugees are under 18.

Most refugees are not men. According to UNHCR, there are around 13 million child refugees, but less than one million seeking asylum. Additionally, 17 million children are forcibly displaced within their country of origin. This demographic breakdown holds true for almost every regional crisis and is a significant concern as contemporary child migration is often inhumane, disregarded, and usually unregulated.

Source(s): UNCHR and UN.

Myth 4: Many refugees have smartphones so they must be well off.

Fact: Smartphones are a lifeline for refugees, not a luxury.

For refugees, smartphones are not just for casual scrolling through social media, instead they offer the ability to access essential and potentially life-saving information such as where to get food, how to find shelter, applying for financial aid, or even earning a livelihood through virtual work. Smartphones are so important to refugees’ lives that they often spend up to a third of their disposable income just to stay connected.

In the era of what some have dubbed “the connected refugee,” NaTakallam can provide income opportunities to refugees, to work as language tutors, teachers and translators for users all around the world. 

Sources: WEF Forum and Forbes.

Myth 5: Most refugees live in camps.

Fact: Over 60% of refugees live in urban areas.

Contrary to the frequent images of sprawling refugee camps in media outlets, over 60% of refugees live in urban areas. This has presented a new set of challenges: resources are often less concentrated, humanitarian assistance less plentiful and individuals can more easily miss vital information and aid.

NaTakallam works with displaced persons in both urban areas and refugee camps – which is made possible because of how we leverage technology.

Sources: UN Refugees, UNHCR, World Refugee Council and The Brookings Institute.

Myth 6: Refugee influxes ruin economies.

Fact: Studies show that refugees can be positive fiscal contributors.

The notion that admitting refugees will ruin a host country’s economy is rooted in false economic ideas. Over time, refugees add more value to the economy than the initial cost of resettlement – if they are granted the right to work legally. Moreover, studies show that low-skilled foreign workers and low-skilled domestic workers tend to complement each other, rather than compete. In addition, immigrants tend to have higher entrepreneurial activity compared to natives, with studies finding that two-thirds of US GDP expansion since 2011 can be directly attributed to migration – an economic development trend also observed in Europe and the Middle East.

Many of NaTakallam’s displaced tutors are barred from employment due to legal restrictions – leaving them vulnerable to black market, unsafe work. NaTakallam allows refugees to make an income legitimately, and safely, regardless of their location.

Sources: UN, Immigration Forum and University of Oxford.

Myth 7: The largest refugee camp is a Syrian camp in Jordan.

Fact: The Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Bangladesh is the world’s largest refugee camp.

While not receiving much global media coverage, Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh hosts over 860,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic and religious persecution – making it the largest refugee camp in the world, since 2017. Followed by Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda with a population of over 230,000 refugees, and Dadaab camp in Kenya with over 200,000 refugees.

In comparison, the largest Syrian camp, Zaatari refugee camp, located in Jordan, is home to over 77,000 refugees – 11 times fewer refugees than that of Kutupalong camp. 

Sources: UNHCR, Africa Center and UNHCR Data

Myth 8: Most refugees are from the Middle East.

Fact: The largest groups of refugees are from Venezuela, Syria & Afghanistan.

While refugee flows from the Middle East have captured most media attention in recent years, unfortunately conflict and persecution know no bounds. In 2020, 5.5 million Syrian refugees made up ~25% of the global refugee population. Meanwhile, Venezuela continues to battle one of the largest non-war displacement crisis, with over 5 million people forced to flee economic, political, and humanitarian disaster over the last two years. In addition, many often overlooked countries actually top the list, such as Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Eritrea.  

Sources: UN, Statista, The Brookings Institute, UNHCR, and World Vision.

Myth 9: Refugees don’t make for good employees.

Fact: Refugees can be a long-term economic advantage for companies.

Employers say it best: when it comes to refugees, “They come to work and get the job done.” Recent research from the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) highlights that in addition to being hardworking, refugees often stay with their employers for longer and speak a foreign language – a highly desirable skill for any company with global operations. Furthermore, in the Tent Partnership for Refugees report, many businesses hiring refugees claimed that employee turnover rates were much lower among refugee employees than the general population – thus, saving businesses a lot of money. This finding was further backed by FPI across all industries and sectors.

Sources: UN, Fiscal Policy Institute and Tent Partnership for Refugees.

Myth 10: “There’s nothing I can do to help refugees.”

Fact: Each person can make a difference in supporting refugees.

Everyone can do something. Whether it’s hosting refugees in your home or community, raising awareness or supporting refugee-centered companies, you have the power to make meaningful differences aside from financial donations.

And if you’re looking to directly support refugee livelihoods, consider bringing NaTakallam into your home, classroom or office setting, for your language-learning, cultural exchange or translation needs. All services are delivered by skilled refugee and displaced tutors, teachers and translators, and each session contributes directly to refugee livelihoods, at a time when they might be cut off from the local labor market, in camps, or in other transit circumstances.

10 Benefits of Learning a New Language

Although learning a language can be difficult, there are more pros to learning than cons! Today’s society is interconnected and interdependent, and learning a language can benefit you in the long run with how you contribute and engage with the global economy.

Here are the Top 10 Reasons to Learn a Language!


One of the most rewarding aspects of the human experience is our ability to connect with others, and being able to communicate with someone in his or her language is an intrinsic form of connection. Bilinguals have the unique opportunity to communicate with a wider range of people in their personal and professional lives.


Language skills can be a significant competitive edge that sets you apart from your monolingual peers. They are among the top eight skills required of all occupations—no matter your sector or skill level—and the demand for bilingual professionals is rising exponentially. As an added incentive, in many instances, language skills also lead to hiring bonuses and increased salaries.


The cognitive benefits of learning languages are undeniable. People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills. If that weren’t enough, as we age, being bilingual or multilingual also helps to stave off mental aging and cognitive decline.


Language is the most direct connection to other cultures. Being able to communicate in another language exposes us to and fosters an appreciation for the traditions, religions, arts, and history of the people associated with that language. Greater understanding, in turn, promotes greater tolerance, empathy, and acceptance of others—with studies showing that children who have studied another language are more open toward and express more positive attitudes toward the culture associated with that language.


While monolingual travelers are capable of visiting the same places, travelers who know more than one language are more easily able to navigate outside the tourist bubble and to connect and interact with the place and its people in a way that is often inaccessible to those without the language. Learning a second language also opens additional doors to opportunities for studying or working abroad.


In a world of more than 6,000 spoken languages, we sometimes require translation, but speaking at least one additional language empowers us to access information that would otherwise be off-limits. For example, individuals proficient in other languages are able to navigate the Internet as genuine global citizens—consuming and assessing foreign media and entertainment.


Not only does learning a second language improve communication skills and multiply vocabulary in your first language, but research also shows that it makes picking up additional languages a much easier feat, especially among children. That’s because when you learn a new language, you develop new brain networks that are primed and ready when you embark on learning a third language.


Any language learner can attest to making his or her share of mistakes while discovering a new language—often in front of an audience. It’s a necessary part of the learning process! Learning a language means putting yourself out there and moving out of your comfort zone. The upside is the amazing sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when conversing with someone in their native language.


Studies show that decisions made in your second language are more reason-driven than those made in your native language. Contrary to popular assumptions, when we deliberate in a second or third language, we actually distance ourselves from the emotional responses and biases deeply associated with our mother tongue. The result? Systematic and clear-headed decisions based on just the facts.


As we explore a new language and culture, we naturally draw comparisons to what is most familiar. Learning about another culture sheds light on aspects of our own culture—both positive and negative—we may not have previously considered. You may find a greater appreciation for what you have, or you may decide to shake things up!

Find out more on how you can learn a language with one of our programs TODAY: natakallam.com/conversation-sessions/

Image Source: https://medium.com/@chacon/mit-scientists-prove-adults-learn-language-to-fluency-nearly-as-well-as-children-1de888d1d45f

What’s the best way to teach children a second language? New research produces surprising results.

Different to what people might expect, children’s language-analytic ability is most important, followed by phonological awareness.

In a new study, the results showed that conscious effort & learning makes the best use of limited time spent on foreign language learning.

In other words, subconscious language learning requires much longer hours of learning over a longer period of time.

This means that even if you don’t live in the country where the desired language is spoken, you can learn effectively through lessons, including via NaTakallam conversation sessions and Integrated Curriculum!

P.S. Did you know NaTakallam offers four languages, easily accessible to you online via Skype? Find out more here.

Source and image: link.

Five years later: Important updates from NaTakallam

In 2015, NaTakallam happened.

Happened because we, as founders, like many entrepreneurs, identified a critical gap and came up with an idea for how to help alleviate it. We noticed there was a lack of affordable ways to learn and practice Arabic, specifically colloquial dialects, from abroad. At the same time, millions of Syrian refugees were stuck in Lebanon, with no right to work, and no future on the horizon.

We connected some dots, thus planting the seeds for NaTakallam, a language services platform powered by individuals from displaced and host community backgrounds through the digital economy.

Five years later, NaTakallam is on track to hit its goal of a cumulative disbursement of $1,000,000 USD to our instructors and translators of refugee and host community backgrounds. 

They are based in 30+ different countries, speak a combined 20+ languages and dialects, and since 2015, have worked with over 10,000 individual and organizational clients. Clients include the private sector to NGOs, classrooms of 8-year old children in Kentucky, USA, to humanitarian aid workers in places like Sudan or Bangladesh.

As founders, our backgrounds in humanitarian affairs, human rights, and economic development, helped us identify an opportunity where traditional business leaders may not have seen one.  Still, learning the ways of doing business and developing our business acumen has been a steep learning curve. In fact, as shared in this op-ed a few years ago, our CEO Aline Sara, a few years back, didn’t even know what a social enterprise meant when her co-founder launched NaTakallam.

Over time, we’ve learned on the job. Today, we better understand the rapidly evolving social entrepreneurship ecosystem. We do believe that social impact and market-based solutions can create beautiful things together. While the sector is still young, developing and complex, one thing consistently stands out: a drive for sustainability.  

Indeed, as a social enterprise, unlike many non-profit organizations, who often function like charities – essentially delivering aid -, NaTakallam has a built-in revenue model. 

Each translation service we sell contributes directly to refugee livelihoods.

Each classroom we visit fosters empathy and cross-border understandings.

Each language lesson held helps show the role of technology and digital innovation in an otherwise slightly antiquated humanitarian and bureaucratic system.

As we continue to grow, NaTakallam is getting closer to our goal to become completely independent of external funds and fully self-sustainable. We can do so by continuing to generate revenue from our core activities, selling quality, curated language services. NaTakallam is fortunate to have an opportunity to do this – to leave external funds and donations to those NGOs on the ground doing incredible, needed humanitarian work on the ground that simply cannot become revenue-generating. There will always be a need for some emergency relief and aid services, including cash-based assistance.

At the precipice of NaTakallam’s self-sustainability, we would like to acknowledge the improvements our team has delivered over the years, including:

• A fresh new website – to be launched next month
• Training, upskilling and community building – investing time and money in our refugee and host community instructors and translators to ensure they are well equipped to deliver the highest quality professional services. 
• An upcoming brand-new user platform – enabling more seamless scheduling, booking, tracking 
• Enhanced customer service – we have more hands on deck to answer your needs and troubleshoot any issues more smoothly
• Continuing to serve those in hard to reach areas, notably, Lebanon, whose recent crisis has rendered payment processing and disbursements all the more difficult.

More and more refugees and displaced persons rely on NaTakallam for financial security. As we continue to improve our services to both those we support and those to whom we provide paid services, so too does our commitment to remaining sustainable.

After careful consideration and to honor our goal towards self-sustainability, we wanted to share that as of November 1st, 2020,  pricing for NaTakallam’s conversation session will increase slightly as follows: 

•  $25 for 1 hour 
•  $95 for our 5 hour-bundle ($19/session)
•  $160 for our 10 hour-bundle ($16/session)

*If you want to continue benefitting from the current pricing, you can renew your package or buy several in bulk until the end of October 2020. As we want to ensure that our services remain accessible and affordable to non-profit and educational partners, please get in touch with our team directly for customizable group offerings.

Pricing for our Integrated Curriculum, as well as our Academic Programs and Translation and Interpretation services, remain unchanged.

We look forward to continuing to work with you, and thank you for your support and belief in our mission over the years.

With gratitude, love, as well as peace in all languages,

Aline, Reza and the entire NaTakallam team



Tarek: From Lebanon to Turkey

Meet Tarek, who joined NaTakallam in 2017

NaTakallam is my second family and every person I’ve talked to has an inspiring story. I learn from them – their lives, background, culture – as they learn from me. Many of my students became my friends and some were able to come to visit me in person which was such a great thing to happen! I can’t imagine my life now without NaTakallam. 

My story began when I arrived in Beirut on August 4th, 2016. I had the chance to study graphic design which I was dreaming of and I enjoyed living there. But it was is temporary because the moment I completed my studies, it would be illegal for me to stay. Four years later, on August 4th, 2020, I went to the general security office to check my residency and they gave me a paper instructing me to leave the country within 5 days… My residency wasn’t renewed because I graduated during the COVID lockdown. Later that day, the Beirut blast happened, 1.5 km away from where I lived. I thought I was going to die.

I couldn’t stand seeing the beautiful city I lived in for 4 years being destroyed. I decided to go to Turkey. It was the only and fastest option, and my brother has lived there since 2015 and I hadn’t seen him since. But the waiting period in Lebanon was stressful. I was afraid of being asked for my (expired) residency at any moment and risked being jailed with the possibility of being sent back to Syria.

A month after the blast, I arrived in Istanbul on September 4th. I hope to stay safe here for a while until I apply for a masters degree somewhere in Europe.


Noor: From Biologist to University Tutor

Meet Noor, who joined NaTakallam in 2016

NaTakallam is a gate that opens up the whole world. I made lots of memories and friends while teaching with NaTakallam. For example, one of my learners, Gina, has become my best friend and she has even visited me here in Italy. Through NaTakallam and Gina, I also had the opportunity to work as a translator with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).

During the quarantine period, all my students texted and called me, making sure I was fine in Italy – especially in the early days of the pandemic. I’m blessed to be a part of such a great family at NaTakallam.

This October, I am thrilled to start working at IULM University. During my interview, they asked for an Arabic language certificate but as I’m a native Arabic speaker, NaTakallam wrote a recommendation letter telling them that I have been working with NaTakallam and teaching students, including university students, and that I had been trained by Professor Munther Younes, Director of the Arabic Department at Cornell University.


Tawfic: From Languages to Data Science


Meet Tawfic, who joined NaTakallam in 2018

Two years ago, when my asylum claim got rejected, I felt hopeless. My right to work got revoked. I was at the edge of losing my rented room. Those were dark days of limbo that I hope that nobody experiences. It was then that my partner told me about NaTakallam. I always loved languages and so I applied for the opportunity. I was aiming for a reliable income to support myself while waiting for my papers. Through NaTakallam, not only did I achieve that goal, but also, it changed my life forever.

I met amazing people through NaTakallam, from different countries and cultural backgrounds, many of whom became good friends that I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I have learnt a lot from them. I also obtained valuable skills that helped build my career through different opportunities that NaTakallam offered. I learned the ability to work in a multicultural environment, an important prerequisite for many workplaces. NaTakallam prepared me for work in (future) multinational organizations.

NaTakallam’s flexible working hours also gave me the opportunity to study Data Science online for two years and get experience and certificates in various fields. Once my papers were sorted, I could apply for my dream job which merged my passion for languages, which evolved even further at NaTakallam, and data science, which I could study. I began a new career that I was always dreaming of and am now working towards a more certain future.

This is a very rare opportunity during the pandemic, as many people are struggling to keep their current employment, let alone to advance. For that, I am indebted to and grateful for this amazing organization that literally changed my life forever.

* * *

At NaTakallam, language is life-saving.
Tell your friends and family about our language learning, your colleagues about our organizational offers such as translation, and let’s continue to change the world through language and culture.

Top 10 Lebanese Street Art – of the Thawra

Credit: @dear.nostalgia

No, this post is not about COVID.

It’s about Lebanon, and if you’re reading it, chances are you’ve heard about the country’s tumultuous past year. A political and economic crisis, much time in the making, sparked countrywide protests beginning in October 2019. In the time since, the economic situation has only deteriorated further (not to mention, of course, COVID… but, as promised, we’re not here to talk about that). 

We’re here to share some of the inspirational work of the talented artists and powerful voices that, in the wake of the turmoil, took to the streets with their passion and creativity. 

Here are some of NaTakallam’s favorites — with a sprinkle of Arabic lessons along the way! 

1. “Oh Lebanon, piece of paradise” / لبنان يا قطعة سما

Credit: @dear.nostalgia

@dear.nostalgia’s “Oh Lebanon, piece of paradise.”

2. “To the street!” / عالشارع!

Credit: @kibok.art

@kibok.art’s “To the street!” — ! عالشارع

3. “The Love Revolution” / ثورة حب

Credit: @amani.ashkar

@amani.ashkar: ثورة حب, meaning “the love revolution”

4. “Revolution of pots” / ثورة الطناجر

Credit: @antonybmhanna

This pot-banging protest known as “cacerolazo” (Spanish term), is usually associated with Latin America, but it has played an important role in Lebanon as well. 

@antonybmhanna’s: ثورة الطناجر or “the revolution of pots”.

5. “I don’t want to fear revolution and love” / ما بدي خاف الثورة والحب

Credit: @rawand.issa_

@rawand.issa_’s Picasso-esque piece about not wanting to fear revolution or love.

6. “Peace and love” / سلام وحب

Credit: @yazanhalwani

سلام (“salaam”) meaning ‘peace’ in Arabic might be among the first words you learn in Arabic (i.e. in the greeting, As-salāmu ʿalaykum). @yazanhalwani’s statue ‘سلام وحب’ means peace and love.

7. “Embrace me under the sky of Beirut”  / اغمرني تحت سماء بيروت

Credit: @miraelfeel

Artwork by @miraelfeel: Embrace me under the sky of Beirut.

8. “Back, back, to rebuild it” / راجع راجع يتعمر 

Credit: @dear.nostalgia

@dear.nostalgia’s artwork: “back, back, to rebuild it”, or “it will be rebuilt”. The hope for Lebanon to be back on its feet again.

9. “Where are we going?” / لوين رايحين؟

Credit: @tamara_nasr

As the world is uncertain right now, this question has been on the minds of billions of people, not just Lebanese, around the world today: “Where are we going?”

Artwork by @tamara_nasr, with a side of a reality check.

10. All for the nation / كلنا للوطن

Credit: @nouriflayhan

Whether in the face of an uprising or weathering uncertain times, let the words of @nouriflayhan remind us of unity: All for the nation, or homeland.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fascinated by learning Lebanese Arabic from scratch? Look no further.

Last March, NaTakallam officially launched its programming with the Lebanese dialect, and is, for the first time ever, supporting host communities alongside refugees.

 Sign up, today: natakallam.com/conversation-sessions/

Friday Food: Kibbeh

You’ve probably tried, but do you know what it means?

“Kibbeh” (كبة) consists of bulghur wheat, minced onions, a choice of red meat, and spices, all rolled up together, and its name is actually derived from the Arabic word ‘kubbah’, meaning ‘ball.’

Kibbeh can be fried into croquettes stuffed with minced beef or lamb. Kibbeh can also be cooked in broth or baked!

Give it a try yourself this weekend! Sahtein 😀


  • 2 pounds finely ground beef (or lamb, lean, divided)
  • 1/2 pound  bulghur cracked wheat (medium or #2)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (plus 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper (plus 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 medium onions (1 finely chopped, and 1 coarsely chopped, divided)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Steps to Make It:

  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. In a medium bowl, soak wheat for 30 minutes in cold water.
  3. Remove and drain. Remove excess water by squeezing through thick paper towel or cheesecloth.
  4. Place into a medium bowl and combine with 1 pound meat, coarsely chopped onion, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
  5. Combine well and place a small amount in a food processor until a dough-like consistency. You can slowly add an ice cube at a time during processing if needed.
  6. Place mixture aside, covered. Instead of using a food processor, you can use a mortar and pestle. However, it will take you over an hour to achieve the desired consistency.

Prepare Kibbeh Stuffing:

  1. In a medium frying pan, sauté the finely chopped onion in olive oil. Add pine nuts if desired.
  2. Add ground lamb or beef and chop well with wooden spoon or spatula to ensure the meat is chopped. Add allspice, salt, pepper, and cumin.
  3. Once the beef is light brown, remove from heat. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes.

Assemble Kibbeh and Fry:

  1. Take an egg-sized amount of shell mixture and form into a ball. With your finger, poke a hole in the ball, making space for filling. Add filling and pinch the top to seal the ball. This recipe will make about 25 medium-sized kibbeh.
  2. You can then shape it into a point, or football shape, or leave as a ball.
  3. Fry in 350 F oil on stovetop or in a deep fryer for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  4. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Image/Recipe: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-beginner-kibbeh-recipe-2355367

Love — Lost in Translation

Learning any of the above languages? You’re probably familiar with how to say “I love you”.  But what about other forms of expressing affection?

In Arabic, يا روحي (pronounced: ya rouhi) translates to “you’re my beloved, though it’s literal meaning is “my soul.” More unique, تقبرني (pronounced: tuqburnii), literally means “bury me” and implies one would rather die and have you bury them, than live without you.  

In Persian, جیگر طلا (pronounced: jigar talâ) takes the cake, literally meaning “golden liver”, while in French, saying mon chou to the special man — or ma choupinette to the special woman — in your life is a term of endearment like “darling”, (it literally means “my little cabbage,” although, chou here is short for chou à la crème, a sweet puff pastry).

In Spanish, mi cielo, meaning “my sky,” is rather non-controversial. Wouldn’t you enjoy it if someone told you were their “sky”, or alternatively their “heaven”. 😉 Some might also call their partner mi media naranja, literally translating to “my half-orange”, meaning you are the one irreplaceable other half.

Photo credit: www.pinterest.com/hense87/

For those who are still crushing, a few other notable expressions include كلامك عسل على قلبي, (pronounced: kalamuka ‘asal ‘ala qalbi) in Arabic, which literally means, “your words are honey on my heart”.

Meanwhile, دل به دل را داره (pronounced: del be del rah dare) in Persian means “there is a path between our hearts,” i.e. a feeling of affection is mutual. 

In Spanish, ¡Qué mono(a) eres! means “you’re so cute!” though it literally translates to “you’re so monkey!” i.e. funny in a charming way.

Another fun fact: “love at first sight” in French translates to coup de foudre… literally “lightning strike! YIKES 😉

Looking to discover more expressions of love? NaTakallam’s conversation partners are here to help! To learn more, click here.

Don’t forget! Throughout February, use promo code LOVE20 on purchases of $70+ (=5 hours of conversation) to receive a FREE* set of NaTakallam-designed Arabic love cards! Perhaps a nice Valentine’s gift?

*T&C: For US-based purchases only, while supplies last. Please note, postcards will be received in March.

Friday Food: Persian Love Cake

Many legends surround the beautiful Persian love cake. Some say that it was baked by a woman to charm a Persian prince. Others add that the pastry is enchanted. With its delicious hints of rose, cardamom & nuts, we wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some truth to the tales!

Fun fact: This cake is similar to the Middle Eastern basbousa “بسبوسة” while others say other versions of the cake take a more French approach!

Indulge in a piece of Persian-inspired love, over some Persian sessions with NaTakallam! Visit here.

PREP TIME: 25 mins

COOK TIME: 40 mins

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 5 mins


For the cake,

  • Butter – 1 cup, softened
  • Sugar – 1 cup
  • Eggs – 4, large, at room temperature
  • Ground almonds – ½ cup (see Notes)
  • Greek yogurt – ½ cup
  • Rose-water – 1½ tsp
  • Lemon zest – 2 tsp
  • All-purpose flour – 2 cups
  • Baking powder – 2 tsp
  • Salt – ¼ tsp
  • Cardamom powder – ½ tsp
  • Saffron – a generous pinch, crushed
  • Milk – ½ cup

For lemon-rose syrup,

  • Sugar – ¼ cup
  • Lemon juice – 2 tsp
  • Rose-water – ½ tsp

For the glaze,

  • Powdered sugar – 1½ cups, sifted
  • Lemon juice – 2-3 tbsp

For decoration,

  • Pistachios – 2 tbsp, roughly chopped
  • Dried rose petals – 2 tbsp


  1. Cake: Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg.F. Generously grease and flour a large bundt or fluted pan. Set aside.
  2. Before you begin, warm the milk slightly and stir in the crushed saffron strands. Let stand till you prep the rest of the ingredients. By the time you need the milk in the recipe, the saffron would have infused all their flavor into the milk and also given it a lovely golden color.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on high speed for few minutes till pale and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one by one, beating to mix after each addition. Spoon in some ground almonds along with each egg to prevent the mixture from curdling.
  5. Add Greek yogurt, rose-water and lemon zest and beat to incorporate.
  6. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom powder into this mixture. Add the now cooled saffron milk and mix till batter is smooth. Do not over-mix.
  7. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Tap the pan lightly on the countertop a coupe of times to remove any air bubbles.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 deg.F and bake for another 20-25 minutes or till the cake passes the toothpick test. If you bake it at 350 deg.F throughout, the cake may brown too rapidly.
  9. Remove the pan from oven and cool the cake in pan for 10 minutes. Gently untold the cake to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
  10. Syrup: During the last few minutes of baking, prepare the syrup. Combine sugar, lemon juice and rose-water in a small saucepan and heat till sugar dissolves and syrup thickens slightly. Brush warm syrup over the warm cake and allow to cool before covering with the glaze.
  11. Lemon glaze: Add 2 tbsp lemon juice to powdered sugar in a bowl. Using either a wire whisk or a spatula, mix together to form a smooth paste. Add more lemon juice as needed to make it into a thick but dripping consistency.
  12. Decoration: Pour glaze all over the top of the cooled cake and allow the excess glaze to drip down the sides of the cake.
  13. Sprinkle chopped pistachios and rose petals all over the top of the cake. Cut into slices and serve.
  14. Storage: Keep cake covered (like in a cake container) on the countertop for 2-3 days. Refrigerate for longer durations.

NOTES:1. Ground almonds: I ground blanched almonds myself to a semi-fine powder using an electric spice grinder. You can use either store-bought almond flour (typically made with blanched almonds that are ground very fine) or almond meal (made with skin-on almonds that are ground somewhat coarse).
2. You can use orange-blossom water, orange juice and
zest instead of rose-water, lemon juice, and zest respectively in the recipe.
3. I have baked the cake at a lower temperature for the latter half of the baking time. You can also bake it at 350 deg.F throughout, but you may need to tent the top to keep it from browning too rapidly. Some cracking on the top of the cake is expected, but it doesn’t matter as you will be inverting the cake anyway.
4. You can also decorate the cake with fresh organic rose petals instead of dried rose petals.

Image/Recipe: http://www.happyandharried.com/2017/06/15/persian-love-cake/

Travel Tuesday: Bcharré, Lebanon

Home of legendary poet Gibran Kahlil Gibran, did you know that Bcharré (بشري) originates from the Phoenician language ‘Bet Ishtar‘, or, “The House of Ishtar”– the Phoenician goddess of love and war?

A UNESCO World Heritage site, this area — located in the North Governorate in Lebanon — is one of the last forests of rare Lebanon cedar trees. For ski lovers, Bcharré hosts one of the oldest skiing areas in the world, based in the Cedars Ski Resort!

P.S. Interested in Levantine Arabic.. or, more specifically, the Lebanese dialect? Stay tuned for a special announcement 😉

Image: https://www.lebanoninapicture.com/pictures/bcharre-oldvillage-lebanesehouse-photography-photograph

Friday Food: Malfouf

Malfouf (ملفوف) has a double meaning in Arabic, ‘cabbage’ + ‘rolled’ — and perhaps the perfect combination to describe this comforting dish in the Middle East!

‘Mahshi malfouf’ (محشي ملفوف), or ‘stuffed cabbage’, is rolled with various rice fillings, & seems to be a local dish in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Finland, too!

This favorite Middle Eastern dish has fillings that differ depending on where you eat it! For instance, in Egypt, it is usually stuffed with rice while in Lebanon it is usually stuffed with rice and meat. Here’s a recipe you can try below, and adapt to your taste!

Servings: 10 people



For the Cabbage

  • Peel cabbage leaves. Bring a pot of water to boil.
  • Blanch cabbage leaves until soft and set aside.

For the Filling

  • Place rice in a bowl and cover with water. Let sit for 15 minutes and drain.
  • Mix the ricesaltspices, and meat.
  • Place a few leaves in the bottom of the pot to be used for cooking.
  • Take a small amount of filling and place in cabbage leaf. Roll into cigar shape and place in the pot.
  • Stack malfouf until the pot is full.
  • Mince garlic and spread on top layer of malfouf.
  • Place a plate on top of the malfouf in the pot, so that they don’t float.
  • Pour the broth into the pot.
  • Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer.
  • Cover loosely with lid, so that steam can escape easily.
  • Cook until done, about 25 minutes or until broth has cooked off.
  • Remove lid and plate. Place the serving dish over the pot and then flip. Remove pot and serve immediately with yogurt and lemon wedges.

Recipe & Image: https://www.cheftariq.com/recipe/malfouf-stuffed-cabbage-rolls/